I cannot back this up with actual statistics, but I believe more movies have been made about World War II than any other historical event. Dozens were made while the war was still ongoing, and hundreds more have been made in the 63 years since it ended. WWII occurred in a decade when the American film industry was booming anyway, which might explain why it was addressed so often at the time. And it was such a large-scale war, lasting for so many years and having so many facets, that there seems to be no limit to the number of stories it can inspire.
So why does it seem like it’s always just about the Nazis?
Yeah, you’ll get the occasional film about the war in the Pacific or Italy, or about the Japanese-American internment camps in the U.S., or about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But those are all vastly outnumbered by movies about Nazis. And while I understand that the Third Reich was so monstrously evil that we can scarcely comprehend its enormity, I also know that I’m tired of watching movies about Nazis.
Look at what’s coming to theaters in the last few months of 2008 alone. “Valkyrie” (Tom Cruise tries to kill Hitler), “Defiance” (Jewish brothers fight Hitler), “Miracle at St. Anna” (American soldiers face Nazis in the Italian countryside), “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” (kids in Nazi camps), “The Reader” (Kate Winslet is a Nazi).
WE GET IT. The Nazis were bad.
A lot of these movies are good, of course, but others are preachy and didactic. A lot of times I feel like the movie’s whole point is just to remind me how awful the Nazis were, and like I’m an uncaring jerk if I fail to applaud it for doing so.
Oh, thank you, movie! Thank you for refreshing my memory! I’d forgotten about the horrors of war since the last time I watched a movie about it, four days ago! Good thing you were here to say the same thing the last movie said! I didn’t believe it the other 150,000 times, but now I do! THANK GOODNESS FOR YOU, MOVIE!
I understand the tendency for filmmakers to think their project is special and not exactly like all the others. It’s the same reason parents think their children are special and not exactly like all the others. But in fact, most of the time the children are not special, and they are exactly like all the others.
So to all the filmmakers who read this (and I know there are hundreds of you), here are some questions you should answer for yourself, with brutal honesty, before proceeding with your Nazi movie.
1.) Is your movie awesome in some way? For example, does it involve Nazis fighting dinosaurs? Are there robots? Could Will Ferrell star in it?
2.) If you had to summarize your movie’s theme in one sentence, would it be “The Nazis perpetrated heinous crimes against mankind, but in the end good triumphed over evil”? If the answer is yes, get a sheet of paper and start writing down other movies you have seen that have the same theme. Keep writing down titles until you reach 1,000, or until you get the point of the exercise, whichever comes first.
3.) If your movie seems to be rather generic, is there something you could do to make it different? Could it be set in outer space? Could it be a musical? Could Will Ferrell star in it?
4.) As you have pondered your film, has the thought “I bet this might get some Oscar attention…” ever crossed your mind? If so, stop what you are doing immediately and make a stoner comedy instead. Trust me, the world will be a better place.